White House considering stiffer rules for imported cars

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WASHINGTON: The Trump administration is considering ways to require imported automobiles to meet stricter environmental standards in order to protect US carmakers, according to two sources familiar with the administration’s thinking.

White House Spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said President Donald Trump “will promote free, fair and reciprocal trade practices to grow the US economy and continue to (bring) jobs and manufacturers back to the US.”

Two US automotive executives said Friday they believed the idea had been floated in White House talks last week by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, but said the auto industry had not asked for the changes or backed them.

US automakers have long urged removal of non-tariff barriers in Japan, South Korea and other markets that they believe unfairly hinder US exports. There are also concerns that any new non-tariff US barriers could violate WTO rules.

The story was first reported Friday by the Wall Street Journal.

Citing unnamed senior administration and industry officials, the Journal said Trump had asked several agencies to pursue plans to use existing laws to subject foreign-made cars to stiff emission standards.

It appears such non-tariff barriers could have a greater potential effect proportionately on European automakers, which collectively import a greater percentage of cars from plants outside the United States, according to sales figures from Autodata.

In comparison, Japanese and Korean brands made about 70 per cent of the vehicles they sold last year in the United States at North American plants. European brands built only 30 per cent in North America.

Foreign automakers operate 17 assembly plants in the United States, 12 of which are owned by Asian manufacturers. Virtually all of those are non-union plants, many of them in southern states.

Imported vehicles accounted for about 21 per cent of the 17.2 million sold last year in the United States, according to Autodata.

The White House initiative was still in the planning stage, with officials at the US Environmental Protection Agency working to craft a legal justification for the policy, the paper said.